Pacers on Losing Lamb, Struggles in Toronto

Feb. 24, 2020 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan and forwards Domantas Sabonis and Justin Holiday discuss Jeremy Lamb's season-ending injury and the disappointment of Sunday's 46-point loss in Toronto.

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Pacers on Losing Lamb, Struggles in Toronto

Feb. 24, 2020 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan and forwards Domantas Sabonis and Justin Holiday discuss Jeremy Lamb's season-ending injury and the disappointment of Sunday's 46-point loss in Toronto.
Feb 24, 2020  |  01:49

Restoring Pride Begins on Defense

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

Last Thursday afternoon, the Pacers left for New York a happy and healthy team. They had defeated Milwaukee in their previous game, they were coming off a weeklong break for the All-Star game, the intended starting lineup was intact, and the overall roster was healthier than at any time this season.

In the dark hours of Monday morning, however, they returned from Toronto on the wrong side of a 46-point defeat that wasn't even the worst thing about the game. Jeremy Lamb suffered what turned out to be a season-ending injury to his left knee in the second quarter and Victor Oladipo's status was airborne after he sat out the game with lower back spasms suffered in the victory at New York.

Things change quickly in the NBA, where teams can go from zero to 60 and back again in the flash of a fateful moment. Suddenly, the Pacers' challenge is to regain their bearings and move forward without the player who started capably in Oladipo's place for 42 games and hope that Oladipo's latest injury is but a blip on his long-term rehabilitation process.

And just when it looked like they were poised to settle in for the stretch run toward higher ground in the Eastern Conference.

Oladipo said he suffered the injury when Knicks guard Reggie Bullock bumped him while he was taking a jump shot. He participated in Monday's light workout at St. Vincent Center, moving with no apparent pain, and hopes to play in Tuesday's game against Charlotte at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

"It just depends how it feels," Oladipo said. "Trying to be smart about it. If I feel good enough, I'll go out there."

Oladipo spoke bluntly of the need to dig out from the avalanche in Toronto — "It's about character" — and he knows where the process begins. On defense. Normally the least of their worries over the previous eight or nine seasons, it has become a greater concern as this season has progressed. Sirens went off in Toronto, where the Raptors jumped to a 15-1 advantage and led 34-12 after the first quarter.

"Our defense should dictate our pace and what we're about to bring to the game," Oladipo said. "When we set the tone defensively, we'll be better off. When we're trying to set the tone offensively, it's tough. As much as you work hard, you can't really dictate whether the ball goes in or not that night. But you can dictate how you guard defensively. You have way more control over your game defensively than you do offensively.

"I feel like the Pacers have been a defensive-minded team even before I was here. I feel like it was tough to play against them because they were a defensive-minded team. We can't lose that. That's the reason they were in the Eastern Conference Finals (in 2013 and '14). I used to come up in college and watch them. That's the reason they were successful. They stopped dudes. You have to stop guys in this league. Slow them down.

"You have to set the tone defensively. And it starts with me when I'm out there. The guards set the tone defensively and everyone else needs to follow. That's just how it has to be."

Oladipo has done his part since making his season debut on Jan. 29. He already leads the team in drawn charges with six. The latest came 18 seconds into the victory over Milwaukee, when he jumped in front of the Bucks 7-foot, 270-pound center Brook Lopez under the basket to draw a foul. Probably not coincidentally, the Pacers led 34-20 after the first quarter and led the rest of the game.

"At the end of the day that's what it's about," Oladipo said. "You saw how it ricocheted through the rest of the game. Set the tone. Simple as that. We're not the fastest team, we're not about to score 130 points right now, so we need to rely on that if we want to be successful."

T.J. Warren

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Coach Nate McMillan was equally blunt in his assessment of Sunday's meltdown, a game he declared "a shocker to me." He was most disappointed in the third quarter. Not even the embarrassment of trailing by 31 points at halftime and the prodding of McMillan's loud halftime lecture were enough to make much difference. The Pacers scored the first six points of the period and wound up winning it by one point but didn't show enough force to make a meaningful dent in Toronto's lead.

McMillan showed video of the first three quarters to the players Monday morning to let them have a look in the mirror.

"You're going to have quarters or halves when you play bad, but you've got to find a way," he said. "You've got to stay in it, stay positive, find a way to light that fuse when you come out in that third quarter. I wanted to show them...did they see any change in that third quarter? I didn't see any urgency that was needed when you're going up against a team like Toronto."

Nor did McMillan let his team off the hook with any excuses. Every NBA team has bad games in the court of 82. Every team loses to inferior opponents or plays well below its potential at times. Usually there are extenuating circumstances, but McMillan didn't spot any of those on Sunday despite the absence of Oladipo and the loss of Lamb.

"I'm not going to say this is 'one of those games' that you have," McMillan said. "Because it wasn't a game where we were playing the fourth game in five nights. We were just coming off break. We were rested. We had won the game in New York (on Friday). We're going up against Toronto and we had played them well. We should have been ready for that game. To come out and play the way we did...no, I'm not putting that on 'just one of those nights.'"

The Pacers can't afford many more of them, that's for sure. Following Tuesday's game against Charlotte and another home game on Thursday against Portland they head out on another five-game road trip that sends them zig-zagging between the Eastern and Western Conferences. By the time they return home from Dallas in the wee hours of Monday, March 9, they'll know a lot more about their status.

Probably their character, too.


Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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